There is a saying when it comes to Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens. No, not "In Ozzie We Trust," but it has a similar refrain. It's that the Ravens, who are respected across the NFL for their talent evaluation above all else, have shown they know when to cut ties with players "a year early, not a year late."
But in most cases, they don't cast aside their aging, expensive veterans a year early. They usually hit the expiration date on the head, like they did with Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Kelly Gregg in 2011. Those fan favorites had little success elsewhere and it was not long before they decided to call it quits.
The rare exception has been Anquan Boldin, who seemed hellbent this season to prove that the Ravens gave up on him too soon. And after he led the San Francisco 49ers with 85 catches for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns, there is reason to believe the Ravens might have let him go a couple of years early.
Another popular saying, one that is used beyond NFL circles, is that hindsight is 20/20. At the time, I endorsed the Ravens for trading Boldin to the 49ers after he refused to take a pay cut (I also had no problem with Boldin standing his ground). My logic was that Boldin's production did not match his $6 million salary -- he did not have one 1,000-yard season in three years in Baltimore -- and that the money might be better spent elsewhere. I also expected big things from tight end Dennis Pitta.
As we glance back in the rearview mirror at a lost season, naturally, there is second-guessing, something my colleague Jeff Zrebiec wrote about earlier this week.
The Ravens were able to use the money they saved to address their defense, signing Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith and Chris Canty (good moves) and Michael Huff and Marcus Spears (not so much). But I'm guessing if the Ravens would have known that Pitta, who like Boldin is a sure-handed pass-catcher who spends most of his snaps in the slot, would be sidelined for the first three months of the season, they might have thought twice about trading Boldin and tried to find the money elsewhere.
Still, I'm sure most reasonable Ravens fans would admit to being surprised about just how productive Boldin has been. He averaged 62 receptions for 882 yards during his three seasons here and scored 14 touchdowns, seven of them in 2010. In his last season, he averaged 1.75 yards every time he ran a route, according to Pro Football Focus.
This season, Boldin averaged 2.55 per route run for the 49ers, which was third in the NFL to Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson and emerging Cleveland Browns wide-out Josh Gordon. And according to Pro Football Focus, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did not throw a single interception when targeting the 33-year-old.
And naturally, Boldin has elevated his play in the playoffs while being a physical and emotional tone-setter for the 49ers. He had eight catches for 136 yards in the NFC divisional round, and as Jenny Vrentas from Sports Illustrated noted, Boldin has 33 catches for 554 yards and four touchdowns in his last six playoff games.
The Ravens' inability to replace what Boldin brought to the table, something that coach John Harbaugh acknowledged a couple of weeks ago, was one of the biggest reasons why they struggled on offense, went 8-8 and are watching Boldin bully defensive backs from their sofas. But it was by no means the only reason.
Still, what Boldin has done this season is proof that even some of the best talent evaluators in the business can miscalculate sometimes. The trade was more of a financial decision, but Boldin has shown that he would have been worth every penny and that there is a decent chance the Ravens let him go more than just a year too early.